Over the past few weeks, I’ve grown very concerned about my musician, actor, and crew friends who work on Broadway. Earlier this month, the Broadway League issued an industry-wide shutdown until early June due to COVID-19.
Even if Broadway reopens in June, it’s not going to be the same Broadway we all know and love. Things are going to be very different, so if you’re a musician, actor, or crew member, it’s best to start picking up some new skills that suit the current and future job market – more on that later. In this post, I’m going to share some thoughts about Broadway’s future.
Let’s get something straight. This post is not a doom and gloom rant designed to scare you. Some of my closest friends are deeply affected by the current situation, and it would be inappropriate for me to capitalize on negativity.
The goal of this post is to examine, and not avoid, our current reality, and discuss how to prepare for the future. So, don’t take this post too personally because I’m trying to help.
Avoiding the Reality
Right now, a lot of people are avoiding reality. I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook and Instagram, but when I do, I see a lot of pointless live streams of people playing the piano and singing. Emotionally speaking, I see the value in live streaming performances. It’s comforting, it triggers encouraging words from friends and family, and it’s pretty much what everyone is doing, so it makes you feel like you’re apart of something.
However, the world doesn’t prioritize feelings over productivity, so it’s silly to complain about not being able to collect your unemployment check, while simultaneously indulging in emotionally-driven time-wasting activities that only make you less employable. So, stop wasting your time and do something to set yourself up for success – more on that later.
If you’re dead set on live streaming performances being the best use of your time, then stream with a purpose. At this time, I’m willing to bet that the majority of people streaming performances on Facebook and Instagram are trying to make money through tips. I know this is the case because people shill Venmo usernames after every few songs. There’s nothing wrong with this – providing entertainment is a service, and services should not be free. With that said, I don’t think it’s appropriate to hop on a live stream with no reason or structure. Before your next live stream, keep the questions below in mind.
- What’s the point of this performance?
- How can I improve the production quality of this performance?
- Is this the best streaming platform for this kind of performance?
- How can I leverage platform features in a new and creative way?
- How can I turn these performances into a sustainable business?
If you can’t or don’t want to answer the questions above before devoting hours of your day to pointless live streams, it’s best to stop it now. Instead, spend the time getting acquainted with reality, and start thinking about what you’re going to do because Broadway as you know it isn’t coming back anytime soon.
Broadway Will Never Be the Same
I’ve had this conversation with quite a few people now. Some people think Broadway will bounce back shortly after New York City opens back up, while others believe Broadway has had its last bow. My position falls somewhere in the middle. I think Broadway will come back to some extent, but it will not be the same – especially for musicians, actors, and crew members.
Social distancing is a lifestyle now. It’s not going away anytime soon, and it will influence how theatres sell tickets. For example, theatres may be socially-forced to sell “every other row” and leave empty seats between patrons – this will effectively cut ticket sales by 50-75%. Furthermore, global travel will take a long time to rebound – this may force long-running shows that rely on foreign inbound visitors to close (e.g. Phantom of the Opera).
Reduced ticket sales will influence producers and investors to take less risk, which will have two significant effects on Broadway productions. Firstly, up and coming writers will have a more difficult time securing funding. Secondly, theatrical adaptations of mainstream titles will be subject to budget cuts – less glitz and glamour will result in fewer audience members. This is a negative feedback loop and a lose-lose situation unless Broadway somehow finds a way to innovate and create a new primary revenue stream.
The impact on musicians, actors, and crew members will likely be devastating. Reducted ticket sales will drive wages down while living costs in New York City will remain the same. To preserve profit margins, producers will insist on reducing orchestra sizes even further – this puts even more competitive pressure on an already hyper-competitive Broadway musician landscape. Producers will reduce the number of ensemble members in productions, which will make life more difficult for actors. Furthermore, producers will favor less technical and extravagant sets, which means fewer crew members will be needed to work a show. Lastly, the various Broadway unions won’t be able to do anything about this, and industry-standard pay rates will fall.
What You Can Do Now
There’s no way to sugarcoat this. If your primary gig is working as a musician, actor, or crew member on Broadway, you need to start looking for an alternate career or supplementary income stream now.
When Broadway opens back up, there will be a job crunch. If you’re not in a position of power, now is the wrong time to be in the industry unless you have a significant amount in savings. Just think about it. Regular musicians have families to feed and mortgages to pay. Pre-COVID, these musicians had a sense of security, which motivated them to sub out of shows to work on other projects occasionally. Post-COVID, these musicians will no longer have a sense of security. Thus, they will act in their best interest, and make as much money as they can while it’s still possible. So, if your income stream relies on subbing on Broadway shows, you need to come up with a plan now.
Concerning what you can do now, my only recommendation is to learn how to code. Starting an online business is too risky and requires some startup capital. On the other hand, you can learn the basics of software development for free.
Stay safe out there.